If you want your car to run well, it’s important to keep up with maintenance, including changing your car’s various fluids in a timely fashion. Leaving fluids in a car too long can lead to diminished performance of the vehicle, quicker degradation of parts, and potentially costly repairs from a car mechanic.
If you’re interested in pursuing an auto career, you might want to take a look at these common fluids you will see in cars. Some are standard, and will show up in pretty much every car you look at. Others are era- or feature-specific, and will only be spotted in older models or models that include a particular feature. Note that estimations provided for fluid replacement timelines are only general. Consult a car’s manual for specific instructions relevant to it.
Car Care 101: Checking Fluids
A look at some of the most common automotive fluids, and the best ways to maintain them.
Engine oil lubricates a car engine’s moving parts.
To check: Open the oil cap, remove and clean the dipstick from within, then reinsert and remove to see how high the oil level is. The markings on the dipstick will tell you if you need more oil.
Oil should be replaced approximately every 12,000-16,000 km.
Expert Tip: It’s a myth that dark coloured oil means it needs changing. Better indications your oil needs servicing include visible grit, or if the oil looks milky.
Coolant is the fluid responsible for absorbing heat created by the engine, and transferring it to the car’s radiator, where it is released.
To check: Make sure coolant is not below the minimum line marked on the tank. If the level is too low, add more.
Depending on the car, coolant should be replaced approximately every 48,000-240,000 km.
Did you know? If you go too long without changing a car’s coolant, its cooling system can corrode and break down
Brake fluid delivers pressure to the brakes from the brake pedal.
It should be replaced every 2-6 years.
To check: Remove the cap from the brake fluid reservoir found under the vehicle’s hood (the symbol usually looks like a circle in parentheses). The fluid level should be just over a centimeter away from the cap.
If a car’s brake fluid is very low, or empty, your car likely needs servicing, or you risk brake failure.
Windshield washer fluid
Windshield washer fluid lets wipers more easily clean dirt and grime from windshield.
It should be replaced as needed, and kept close to full. You will find the tank beneath the hood of a car, in a white/translucent container with a windshield or water symbol on the cap.
Fact: In winter, you must use fluid rated for cold weather, or else the fluid could freeze on your windshield.
Did you know? Legionella bacteria—the cause of legionnaire’s disease—can live in windshield washer fluid for months.
Power-steering fluid lubricates a car’s power steering mechanisms.
Newer vehicles with electric power steering don’t need this, but older vehicles might.
To check: Look under the hood for a cap that says “steering.” Open, remove the dipstick, and follow the same procedure as you would for an oil check.
This should be replaced by a mechanic every 48,000 to 160,000 km, depending on the car.
Differential fluid lubricates a car’s gear box, allowing for smooth transfer of power from engine to wheels.
Differentials are located between the car’s drive wheels; ensuring wheels on a single axle don’t turn at the same speed, which helps to effectively maneuver a car.
Differential fluid should be replaced by a mechanic every 48,000 to 80,000 km.